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Cinematerialisms

Cinématérialismes

New Materialist Approaches to the Audiovisual (Cinema, Media, Digital Arts)

Nouvelles approches matérialistes de l’audiovisuel (cinéma, médias, arts numériques)

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Published on Monday, February 07, 2022

Abstract

The goal of this conference is to investigate the contemporary reconfigurations of the notion of materialism within the disciplines of the arts and of audiovisual cultures. Is it possible to locate a common or core base of materialist practices, methods, or objects of study in these disciplines, or must we accept the plurality of meanings associated with this theoretical axis? To what degree is it productive to distinguish between the terms material, materiality, materiological, etc.? Beyond these terminological questions, we intend to interrogate the points of articulation between reflections on the materiality of audiovisual works and the materialist analysis of their processes of production and reception.

Announcement

Université de Paris (20-21 October 2022) 

Argument

Materialism as a philosophical notion encompasses various meanings, from Greek atomism to contemporary new materialism, by way of the atheistic materialism of the Enlightenment and Marxist historical materialism. Such a diversity has produced a certain conceptual gap between, on the one hand, more literalist definitions which refer first and foremost to a fundamental interest in matter – sometimes leading to physicalist or mechanist approaches to phenomena, but most importantly opposing ontological idealisms that foreground categories of essence or representation – and a historical and political definition, which conceptualizes the individual and the collective according to the socio-historical relations that constitute them as political subjects.

In the context of cinema, we find a similar split between these two poles. On the one hand, “cinematic materialism” is understood in a Marxist (historical and/or dialectical) sense. This is especially visible in two important periods of the 20th century: the Soviet and German avant-gardes of the 1920s, and the revolutionary militant movements of the 1960s and 1970s, which were interested not only in film’s representational properties, but also its material capacities for emancipation and societal transformation. On the other hand, from the earliest theoretical texts on cinema, “cinematic materialism” has referred to a concrete, material and technical approach to images and sound. Indeed, in the 1920s the legitimacy of this new medium was founded on the particularities of the cinematic apparatus and on the specificities of prosthetic vision. More recently, this material or materiological approach to images has found renewed relevance in the context of the various evolutions relating to the apparition of video in the 1970s and of digital media since the 1990s.

Historically, this split in film and audiovisual media studies between socio-political and materiological approaches to materialism has sometimes been a conflictual one. An example of this is the positivist and cognitivist backlash to “Grand Theory” (influenced by Marxism) that started in the 1980s, a critical revision that ushered in the era of Post-Theory (D. Bordwell and N. Carroll, 1995). As a result, a certain disciplinary tendency has developed that seeks to abstain from studying material conditions of the production of audiovisual works in order to focus exclusively on the aesthetic materiality of the image and sound. 

These days, however, political and social materialism seems bound up with materiological concerns, and vice-versa. We find ourselves at a point of crystallization of heterogeneous theoretical issues – the digital “revolution” and abandonment of photochemical film, the challenges to the "end of the history" hypothesis, new interest in the role of media in the planetary ecosystem, etc. –, to which materialisms seem to provide responses, bypassing the impasses of the Post-Theory era. For a number of contemporary theorists, the issue is not to abandon the description of the visual and aural materiality of images, but to reinscribe it into a critical discourse which considers the socio-political dimensions of the works’ modes of production, both technically and economically.

This theoretical and aesthetic transformation is visible in critical approaches that consider an image’s technical characteristics, its material properties, and its medium as elements of its politicization – this is the case in the work of F. Albera, M. Tortajada or B. Turquety, who write in the wake of a transition from theories of the dispositif to media archeology, or else in the work of A. Somaini and F. Casetti on image resolution. These approaches echo the works of artists, filmmakers, or curators, like E. Alloa and P. Szendy (Le Supermarché des images, Jeu de Paume, 2019), who offer a reflection on animated images that links theory and practice with an interest in the technicity of the dispositif and an exploration of the expressive potential of new images. Furthermore, these approaches seek to unpack the tensions between the representational and the post-representational nature of audiovisual media (see, for example, the recent work of filmmakers such as H. Steyerl, É. Weber, ou T. Anthony). This methodological shift also coincides with a contemporary critical renewal of Marxist- and post-Marxist-inspired materialist methods of cinematic analysis (N. Brenez, D. Faroult, D. Fairfax), in addition to contributions stemming from cultural materialism (M. Cervulle, N. Quemener, F. Vöros) and those of social criticism in film and media (F. Fischbach, M. Wayne, F. Granjon).

The goal of this conference is to investigate the contemporary reconfigurations of the notion of materialism within the disciplines of the arts and of audiovisual cultures. Is it possible to locate a common or core base of materialist practices, methods, or objects of study in these disciplines, or must we accept the plurality of meanings associated with this theoretical axis? To what degree is it productive to distinguish between the terms material, materiality, materiological, etc.? Beyond these terminological questions, we intend to interrogate the points of articulation between reflections on the materiality of audiovisual works and the materialist analysis of their processes of production and reception: to what extent do the above-mentioned new images and theoretical orientations reconfigure new materialist approaches to cinema? Can we consider the contemporary audiovisual and theoretical landscape as tending towards a renewed politicization of audiovisual materiality?

We invite submissions from a variety of approaches and points of view on these matters, from materialist analyses of films, theoretical corpuses, or socio-cultural questions to methodological or historical reflections on how we might more precisely define the parameters, mechanisms, and contributions of materialist theory and criticism in the study of film and audiovisual artforms. Possible topics include (but are not limited to) the following axes:

  1. Cinema and materiology

We invite reflections on the recent affinities between cinema and the natural elements, from a variety of perspectives ranging from ecocriticism or J-M Durafour’s econology to the geology of S. Zielinski or J. Parikka’s media entomology; on research linked to the digital image and its artifactual elements (the glitch in work by artists like J. Perconte, the blur as analysed by M. Beugnet, H. Steyerl’s “poor image”, the autonomy and limits of deep learning according to G. Chatonsky); or on “forensic” research which, following on from H. Farocki, cites the materiality of the image as a basis for its truth status and even juridical value (research groups such as Forensic Architecture and Disclose). 

How do these approaches allow us to interrogate the relationships between the filmic medium, representation itself and a materiological sensibility? To what extent do they allow for the construction of a new political relationship to the materiality of the audiovisual image?

  1. Materialism and reception

The analysis of the material dimensions of the spectatorial experience has brought about a renewed interest in reception studies. Here, we can cite, for example, the recent developments in neuroscientific and cognitivist approaches, via which perception and emotion are studied as epiphenomena of materiality, and which sometimes enter into a fruitful dialogue with other approaches in reception studies. To what extent can the relationship between materialism and neuroscience, for example, lead to a renewal of phenomenological approaches considering the body of the spectator (J. Hanich)? How does the dialogue with cognitivism invite us to rethink aesthetics from the point of view of reception (E. Glon, V. Gallese and M. Guerra)? How do these relate to questions of the economy of attention and the commodification of experience in the context of capitalism (J. Crary, J. Beller, Y. Citton)?

  1. The material history of cinema; archeology of media and of technological dispositifs

Following a period that foregrounded formalist approaches, the question of precisely what constitutes cinematic materiality – from film production to spectatorship – in the various audiovisual disciplines has become a central concern. From a historiographic point of view, how does the methodological renewal associated with New Cinema History (T. Gunning, T. Elsaesser, A. Gaudreault) challenge the teleological narratives of previous eras in favor of non-linear approaches which draw attention to forgotten, unrealisable, and even imaginary potentialities of media cultures of the past?

Media archeology locates a technical a priori (like the one postulated by F. Kittler's media materialism) at the center of its interrogations, and reformulates materiality as a network of techniques and institutions. Some, like L. Manovich, V. Flusser, or Y. Citton, raise the question of a politics of the (photographic, cinematic or digital) medium: can we consider the image – understood as an agent of the operational transformation of the visible – to be the raw material of the contemporary world (J. Parikka)? And how does the natural, technical, or even supernatural alterity of the image (historical, spectral, posthuman…) broaden the parameters of what can be considered material?

  1. History of and return to materialist criticism

What legacies of the encounter between cinema and Marxist/post-Marxist materialisms remain relevant for contemporary materialist approaches to film and media? Is there still a place for the project of "demystification" which was so central in 1960s-70s film theory thanks to the influence of L. Althusser?

Beyond these legacies, there seem to be four paths driving the contemporary return to a politically-oriented materialism in film and media studies: first, the reactualization of various Marxist materialist film theories in the context of broader contemporary returns to Marxist frameworks (A. Badiou, J. Beller, N. Brenez, D. Fairfax, D. Faroult, F. Fischbach, J. Rancière, B. Stiegler, M. Wayne, S. Žižek, etc.); second, the contributions of cultural studies and of cultural materialism which investigate audiovisual representations of relationships between class, race, and gender (G. Sellier, N. Burch, M. Cervulle, N. Quemener, etc.); third, approaches which attempt to re-politicize and re-materialize affect theory and film phenomenology by linking them to theories of cultural and/or feminist materialism (E. Brinkema, L. Berlant, B. Highmore, L. Marks, etc.); and fourth, the "new materialist" approaches which link posthumanist theorisations of agential matter, the theoretical impetus of biopolitics and bioethics, and non-linear approaches to political economy (E. Barrett, K. Barad, J. Bennet, B. Bolt, R. Braidotti, D. Coole, I. DeBruin, M. DeLanda, J. Edwards, etc.)

Submission guidelines

Proposals, in French or English, should be no more than 500 words in length and should include a short bio-bibliography (100 words). 

Please submit proposals in .PDF format by Monday, May 9th, 2022 to: cinematerialismes2022@gmail.com.

Responses will be sent out in June 2022.

Scientific Advisory Board

  • François Albera (Université de Lausanne, TECHNÈS) ;
  • Martine Beugnet (Université de Paris, LARCA) ;
  • Maxime Cervulle (Université Paris 8 – Vincennes-Saint-Denis ; CEMTI) ;
  • Marie Frappat (Université de Paris, CERILAC) ; 
  • Kira Kitsopanidou (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris-3, IRCAV) ;
  • Sébastien Layerle (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris-3, IRCAV) ;
  • Aymeric Pantet (Université de Paris, CERILAC) ;
  • Antonio Somaini (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris-3, LIRA).

Organization Committee

(Université de Paris, CERILAC & LARCA research laboratories, and the GERMAINE doctoral research group)

Fanny Cardin, Garance Fromont, C.E. Harris, Charlie Hewison, Rémi Lauvin, Anastasia Rostan, Barnabé Sauvage GERMAINE is a doctoral research group created in 2018 which brings together early-career researchers in the fields of film and visual studies, and audiovisual media.

Places

  • Université de Paris
    Paris 13 Gobelins, France (75013)

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


Date(s)

  • Monday, May 09, 2022

Keywords

  • cinéma, matérialisme, média, audiovisuel, philosophie, dispositif, marxisme, politique

Contact(s)

  • Barnabé Sauvage
    courriel : barnabe [dot] sauvage [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Groupe de recherches doctorales Germaine
    courriel : cinematerialismes2022 [at] gmail [dot] com

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Cinematerialisms », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, February 07, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/186v

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